Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Belated July 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms

Hey, better late than never! A few outstanding releases last month, though one might technically be from the tail-end of June... who cares, it's all good music to me!

1) Sole & the Skyrider Band "Hello Cruel World" (Fake Four Inc.)

Sole's new album with the Skyrider Band is easily the best album I've heard from him in 7 years, and risks dethroning Noah23's album from the top Fake Four album spot in 2011. As someone who was a pretty huge Sole fan in the heyday of Anticon, it's a real pleasure to hear him making such a strong comeback with this body of work. Rather than playing it safe with his traditional barrage-of-vocabulary style, Sole has adapted to 2011's modern rap environment with a far more simple and confident flow that highlights his excellent lyrics and jaded views of the world. Indie rap fans who have dubbed Sole's lyrics as "too esoteric" in the past had ought to give the crystal clear verses of "Hello Cruel World" a listen. On the very first song, Sole even admits that "at age 20 knowing everything it was my style/ I was older then, I'm younger than that now." Statements like that take guts, and this album's got guts for days. The Skyrider Band's outstanding electronic backdrops compliment Sole's cadence better than ever before, veering from excellent club banger style numbers like "Possimism" (a personal favorite) to masterful melancholy affairs like "We Will Not Be Moved" (another personal favorite). This album also features more collaborative features than any past Sole album, boasting the likes of Sage Francis, Ceschi, Mestizo, Xiu Xiu, Pictureplane and more. Tracks like "Home Ain't Shit" and "Immortality" sound like some pretty gangster West coast hip hop sheeeit, and I mean that in a good way. Check out the amazing video for the latter track below, featuring the glorious art of UK artist Lando from Decadence Comics. And yes, I did just write a "Hello Cruel World" review without a single mention of the Based God.

2) Open Mike Eagle "Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes" (Hellfyre Club)

Not sure if this one was technically released in June or July, but either way it's August now and this album's one of the finest hip hop releases of 2011 thus far. I was a fan of Mike Eagle's previous solo album "Unapologetic Art Rap," and his work with Thirsty Fish and Nacrobats (throwback!) has been quality as well, but his music and style have never sounded quite as mature as they do on "Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes." It's the sound of an artist pinning down his own original style and voice and expanding upon it, with more risk-taking and memorable verses than ever before. It's interesting that this album and Sole's album were released around the same time, as they both showcase very confident styles of MCing with an emphasis on clever lyricism. Open Mike Eagle litters his verses with interesting pop cultural references, and comes up with some very original ideas for songs as well. "NH2" deals with the mainstream media's emotionless depiction of black people, "Exiled From the Getalong Gang" tells the tale of a kid breaking the code of a nerdy clubhouse in order to score with girls, and the album's title track deals with how rappers are gonna grow old and die. Even more interesting is the way that Mike Eagle harmonizes over songs, with tracks like "The Processional" and "Bright Green Light" practically sung in a poppy soulful manner while still sounding original as hell. Some great production provided by E. Super, Loden, Willie Green, and Oldominion's Taco Neck amongst others. Between this album and Open Mike Eagle's outpouring of excellent guest verses on other West coast hip hop projects (check out his insane verse on Flash Bang Grenada's "In a Perfect World" if you haven't done so already), it's clear that he's going to be a serious player in the LA underground circuit. As it stands, "Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes" is the strongest Swim Team affiliated album to date. Check out the video for "Bright Green Light" below:

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